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Black Bear baseball returns with ambition

The University of Maine Black Bears baseball looks to continue its hot start to the 2023 season in an effort to build off of its 27-22 record last season. Even though it was their best record since 2013, they were upset by the no. 4 UMass Lowell and no. 3 New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Head coach Nick Derba is in his seventh season as the head coach of the Black Bears after being an assistant on the staff for two years. Last season he was named the America East coach of the year. In his time, Derba has amassed a record of 112-154 wins and losses with the program.

Entering this season, UMaine lost plenty of talented seniors, losing two of their biggest workhorses behind the mound. Among them was Trevor LaBonte, who finished his senior season with a 5-4 record, 5.15 ERA and 1.64 WHIP. Along with LaBonte, they lost Brett Erwin, who, in 14 games, had a 4.52 ERA and led the team in strikeouts with 74.

Along with their pitchers, the Black Bears lost two first-team All-America East players, first baseman Joe Bramanti and utility player Jordan Schulefand. Bramanti led both the team and conference in home runs with 17, team leading in both doubles with 18, RBIs with 64, and slugging percentage with .639. Schulefand led the team in stolen bases with 25 and had the best batting average with a 5.30 with 62 hits, five home runs, and a 5.20 slugging percentage. Schulefand did not just contribute to the offense; he was a relief pitcher finishing the season with a 5-2 record with a 7.66 ERA and 2.07 WHIP.

While the Black Bears did lose plenty of talent on the mound, they still returned one of their top arms from a year ago, that being second-year pitcher Caleb Leys. As a first-year, he went 3-3, had an ERA of 4.64, and a WHIP of 1.68 with 68 strikeouts in 15 games pitched. So far this season, Leys has struggled in the two games he has pitched with just over eight innings thrown overall. He has an ERA of 9.35, a WHIP of 2.31, and his record is 0-0.

Entering this season, the Black Bears only had one returning first-team All-America East player, that being third-year infielder Quinn McDaniel. Last season, McDaniel led the team in hits with 65 and had 10 home runs, along with a .569 slugging percentage just behind Bramanti. So far this season, McDaniel has continued his dominance from last season, having 12 hits, two RBIs, one home run, and a slugging percentage of .667.

Second-year first baseman/designated hitter Jeremiah Jenkins returns after being named second-team All-America East, along with making the All-Rookie team as well. Last season Jenkins finished with a .284 batting average along with 48 hits, seven home runs and a slugging percentage of .485. So far this season, Jenkins has a batting average of .444 along with eight hits, two home runs and a slugging percentage of .778.

The Black Bears dropped their first game of the season against the Pitt Panthers 11-10 but rebounded to win back-to-back games 11-7 and 8-5. This past Saturday, they faced off against Monmouth University in the Penn State tourney 15-14 and 4-1.

UMaine will travel to South Carolina this weekend to face off against the Winthrop University Eagles and will open their home schedule on March 31 when they face off against their rivals UMass Lowell River Hawks at 4 p.m.

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